The Journal of San Diego History
January 1958, Volume 4, Number 1
Jerry MacMullen, Editor

By Bertram B. Moore

In many parts of the world we find that local weather conditions of outstanding characteristics are named after their localities. This is especially true in Spain and Italy.

To make the point clear and bring it close to home, here in San Diego County we experience heavy thunder storms over portions of our mountains and desert areas during July, August, and September. We call these storms Sonoras, because they originate in Sonora.

Under certain atmospheric conditions here in Southern California, we have heavy north and northeasterly winds. They are more frequent during the summer months but may occur at any season of the year. These winds are strong, blustery, and very dry. They seem to originate in the upper atmosphere over the Sierra Nevada Mountains, to gather momentum as they drop down to warm valleys and desert areas, where they rise to higher altitudes as hot air, sucking more wind down after.

A few hours before they hit the valleys of Southern California, high winds are noted in the vicinity of Sandberg, Tehachapi, and the San Gorgonio Mountains. ere they dip down through the canyons north and east of the Santa Ana area, and sweep down valleys to the sea.

In the February 1933 issue of the United States Naval Institute Proceedings, Lt. Comdr. 0. H. Holtman recalled that, in the early days of Spanish exploration, it was the custom to name places and occurrences for the saint on whose day the discovery or event took place. He mentions several blows of hurricane force so named in the logs of early navigators. He then expresses the belief that the first Santa Ana during Spanish times must have been experienced on July 26th, Saint Anne’s day, and was named for her. This seems doubtful for two reasons. The first is that the first Santa Ana would not have been an important enough event to rate a name. The second is that early records of the missions and expeditions do not mention these winds by name, although attention was paid to weather conditions.

Several articles on the origin of the name Santa Ana are to be found in the March and April issues of Touring Topics in 1933. One theory offered was that the winds were named after the blustery Mexican general and president, Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna.

Another writer thought that the name was derived from an Indian word Santana, meaning big or bad wind. This point of view has gained an increasing support, and has become official in some circles.

Still another held that the name originated from the Spanish word Satana, meaning Satan.

The majority point of view among Southern Californians was, and is, that the winds are named for the locality of the same name.

Terry E. Stephenson wrote an article of some length on the subject in the California Folklore Society Quarterly of February 1943. He had become a resident of the city of Orange in the Santa Ana Valley in 1884, and a member of the Chamber of Commerce in 1906. He was a reporter for the Los Angeles Times and the Santa Ana Register for many years. He states that, motivated by intermittent controversies, he looked into the matter and settled it to his own satisfaction.

He first discredited the theory that they were named after President Santa Anna, by pointing out that the winds were called Santa Anas in records written before the man was known.

He then said they were not named by an Indian word Santana meaning big or bad wind. To prove his contention he had written Professor Harry Hoifer, an eminent authority on Indian languages of Southern California. Professor Hoifer reported as follows: “A careful search through the available data on Indian languages of Southern California fails to reveal any word even remotely similar to the word Santana, big or bad winds.”

Stephenson concluded that most of the evidence indicated that the winds were named for the locality in which the old-timers thought they originated, the Santa Ana Canyon.

Other articles are to be found written by long time residents in the valley, most of whom were positive that the name came from the locality.

There is a letter on file at the Serra Museum written by the late Ann Guern, an authority on old Spanish. In it she states that her mother, Mrs. Alice Woodbury, lived in Santa Ana from childhood. Mrs. Woodbury reported that the members of the old Spanish families in those days (she had friends among the Verdugo, Sanchez, and Figueroa families) always spoke of the Santa Anas as deriving their name from the valley, and the canyon where they were strongest.

She went on to say: “The pronunciation as Santana is colloquial, elision of the unaccented a with the accented.”

From the facts quoted, as well as others which space does not permit mentioning, it appears that the name was given to these warm winds by early California settlers because of their supposed point of origin, the Santa Ana Canyon.